Valparaiso battled back from a 10-point second half deficit to tie the game in the final two minutes, but could never take the lead as Youngstown State defeated the Crusaders 64-58 on Thursday evening at the Beeghly Center in Youngstown, Ohio.
“I was really proud of our kids battling back from down 10 to tie the game,” head coach Keith Freeman said. “We played hard and really battled and that’s what makes it even more frustrating.”
Youngstown State jumped out to an early 11-4 lead as the Crusaders went 5:20 without scoring. Valpo started just 2-of-10 from the floor over the game’s opening eight minutes.
Back-to-back jumpers by Ashley Timmerman (Pontiac, Ill./Pontiac H.S.) followed by a lay-up inside by Laura Richards (Connersville, Ind./Connersville H.S.) pulled Valpo within one, 17-16, at the 3:37 mark of the first half.
Timmerman then found Richards for a fast break bucket following a rebound to give the Crusaders their lone lead of the first half, 20-19, with 40 seconds to play before intermission
Kenya Middlebrooks pulled up and drained a jumper in the lane just before halftime though to give Youngstown State a 21-20 lead at the break.
The Penguins built a 10-point lead out of the locker room as Valpo started the second half just 1-of-7 from the floor. Tabitha Gerardot (Fort Wayne, Ind./Canterbury H.S.), who was held scoreless in the first half, scored nine of the Crusaders’ first 10 second half.
A Ieva Jansone (Riga, Latvia/Agenskalna Gymnasium) triple pulled Valpo within five, only to have the Penguins answer with a three.
Valpo again clawed back, pulling within one, 45-44, on a Timmerman three with just under seven minutes to play. Youngstown State’s lead stayed between one and five for the next few minutes until Timmerman banked in a jumper and was fouled. Her free throw tied the game at 55 with 2:04 to play.
“Timmy really battled out there,” Freeman added. “She’s a kid that we don’t have available every day at practice but she played hard.”
Brandy Brown put Youngstown State back on top, this time for good, with a three on the next possession and the lead grew to five following a pair of free throws.
Ashley Varner (South Bend, Ind./Washington H.S.) scored on an inbound lob and was fouled to pull Valpo within two, 60-58, with 12.3 seconds to play, but Middlebrooks capped the game with six free throws in the final 17 seconds.
Gerardot led Valpo with 15 points, all in the second half, while also pulling down nine rebounds. She made 7-of-8 from the free throw line. Timmerman added 14 points while Varner chipped in 10 more.
“Tab did a good job getting fouled and getting to the free throw line tonight,” said Freeman.
Richards finished the game with eight points, all in the first half, while handing out six assists in 40 minutes of action while Gina Lange (Wyoming, Minn./Forest Lake H.S.) also scored eight points.
“Laura Richards gave great effort,” stated Freeman. “She was all over the place.”
Brown led Youngstown State (10-11, 4-6 Horizon) with 20 points and 10 rebounds while Middlebrooks and Monica Touvelle added 11 points each. The Penguins made eight three-pointers in the second half, shooting 42.1% from beyond the arc in the stanza.
“They went inside to Brown in the second half and she went crazy,” Freeman concluded. “She drew our attention and then they kicked it out for the open look on the perimeter. There were three times we didn’t get hands above the ball late in the game and it cost us nine points.”
Valparaiso (5-16, 1-9) will continue its road swing through Ohio on Saturday afternoon, traveling to Cleveland to face Cleveland State. Tip-off is slated for 1 p.m. CST at the Wolstein Center.
Game Notes: Youngstown State leads the all-time series 18-13 and has won four straight meetings … Gerardot made her first five free throws to extend her streak to 16 consecutive makes before missing midway through the second half … Richards’ six assists tie Agnieszka Kulaga (2005-2009) for 11th all-time at Valpo with 256 for her career … the 58 points matched the most Valpo has scored in Horizon League play this season.